Locker positioned to be the next McNair ... or RG III

Steve McNair or Robert Griffin III?

Which one evokes the more powerful image?

There is nobility in the decision to play injured as McNair proved so many times during his years with the Tennessee Titans. No matter how bruised or battered, the surprise was when he did not find a way to get on the field Sunday.

For Titans fans and even some members of the current coaching staff, the memories of McNair’s courage are powerful and poignant. The standard he set for himself caused all of his teammates to look at themselves and their own pain differently. The level at which he played, even when greatly diminished, eliminated any and all excuses anyone else might seek.

Jake Locker suddenly has the opportunity to stir this franchise in a similar manner.

Less than three weeks since he sprained his right hip and knee in a freak incident against the New York Jets he has been cleared for contact and has participated in practice – albeit on a limited basis – each of the last two days. No one has said he will play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday (3:05 p.m., Fox). Then again, no one has said he won’t either.

As much as the Titans would love to resurrect the McNair effect in their new franchise quarterback, they also are well aware of what happened to Griffin, Washington’s top choice a year ago and the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. He desire to play through a knee injury late in the year led to a second, more severe issue with the joint. The impact of that decision continues to adversely affect that team 10 months later.

Simply put: Not everybody can do what McNair could. Perhaps nobody can.

Or maybe Locker, who has drawn comparisons to McNair in other regards, has the same sort of fortitude, fearlessness and physiology that allows him to play with and through pain most can’t.

If nothing else, the Titans ought to be able to recognize the signs.

“He’s a guy that has unfortunately been hurt, but he heals usually ahead of schedule,” coach Mike Munchak said. “He definitely loves the game, definitely wants to be part of it, doesn’t want to miss it. These last two weeks have really been hard for him, so I think he’s going to do everything he can to put himself in a situation where he’s ready to play.

“… It’s just a matter of can he do that? Is he quite ready yet with his body? There’s no doubt the more you rest, the more you take off, the stronger your leg’s going to feel.”

Washington’s experience with Griffin is more than enough to make the Titans think twice (or three or four times) before they put Locker out there, especially given that their open date follows this game.

Then again, how can anyone associated with that team not think of McNair and exactly what it meant to have him out there time and time again?

One of Locker’s greatest attributes in his brief career has been his ability to make the right decision on the field. The choice of whether or not to be on the field Sunday might be his most difficult yet.